The central government of China was not so much an administrative and executive head of the body politic as a means of control and check. The visible machinery of government is indeed of exactly the type which should provide a most efficient administration, but in practice it is seldom that a constructive policy has originated in the capital of the empire, and the Imperial ministers have ordinarily contented themselves with approving or disapproving action as reported, and in supporting or negativing proposals of policy coming from the viceroys and governors.
The oriental system was a system of checks, partly designed to protect the foreign and tribute-levying dynasty from its officials of native race, and partly intended to prevent the excess of independence, of which an oriental ruler has always so great a fear, and which an oriental subordinate is so apt to develop. These checks the Imperial ministers apply by minute regulations, and it is their task to see that these are adhered to; they further have in their hands the power of recommending for appointment, promotion, or dismissal; they have also the power provided by the tribute they levy from all the provincial officials, without which the latter have no security of tenure; and they are a compact body in a central position for the exercise of intrigue. They have great powers of criticism, and can restrain an impetuous or too progressive official, but of forward movement there are few signs of any emanation from Peking during the period covered by this volume. The powers of the central administration are distributed among several ministries and numerous minor department.
Next to the person of the Emperor, and above all other agencies of the government, were two superior Councils.
- The Nui-Ko, Inner Cabinet, commonly called Grand Secretariat, was the Supreme Council of the empire under the Ming dynasty; but since the middle of the eighteenth century has degenerated into a Court of Archives. Active membership is limited to six, and confers the highest distinction attainable by Chinese officials. The Grand Secretaries had the title of Chung-tang, "Central Hall" (of the Palace). Six honorary titles were once attached to the Grand Secretariat-Grand and Junior Preceptor, Tutor, and Guardian; but of these the last only was conferred as Junior Guardian of the Heir Apparent, and that not limited to one incumbent or to Grand Secretaries.
- The Kun-Ki-Chu, "Committee of National Defence" or "Board of Strategy," commonly called the Grand Council, is the actual Privy Council of the sovereign, in whose presence its members, not usually exceeding five in number, daily discuss and decide questions of Imperial policy. Its members usually held other high offices, generally that of President of a Board.
The actual administration of Imperial affairs was, in the period 1834-1860, in the hands of the six Boards:
- Li Pu, Board of Civil Office, the dispenser of patronage, controlling appointment to all posts in the regular hierarchy of the civil service, from District Magistrate (Hien) up.
- Hu Pu, Board of Revenue, controls the receipt and expenditure of that portion of the revenue and tribute which comes to Peking, or is under the control of the central administration.
- Lee Pu, Board of Ceremonies, an important ministry at an Asiatic court.
- Ping Pu, Board of War, controls the provincial forces only, and even them through the viceroys and governors, who are in direct command. The Manchu military forces are controlled by their own organisation attached to the palace. This Board also controls the courier service.
- Hing Pu, Board of Punishments, a department of Justice for criminal law only, and dealing especially with the punishment of officials guilty of malpractices.
- Kung Pu, Board of Works, controlling the construction and repair of official residences throughout the empire, but having no concern with canals or conservancy, roads or bridges.
These Boards were organised on the same plan. Each had two Presidents, of whom one was by law Manchu and one Chinese. Viceroys had, ex-officio, the honorary title of President of a Board, usually of the Board of War. Each Board had also four Vice-Presidents, two being Manchu and two Chinese. Governors of provinces had, ex-officio, the honorary title of Vice-President of a Board, usually of the Board of War. They all had an equipment of secretaries, overseers, assistants, etc., quant. suff., and were divided into sub-departments according to their needs.
Other departments of the government existed at Peking, with functions not limited to any one Board or one branch of the affairs of state, but only the more important need be mentioned:
- Li-Fan Yuen, Mongolian Superintendency, controled the relations with Tibet and the Mongol tribes and princes. Until 1858 Russian affairs, as concerning the Mongolian frontier, were referred to this office.
- Tu-Cha Yuen, "Court of Investigation," commonly called the Court of Censors. Viceroys had the honorary title of President, and governors of Vice-President, of the Censorate. The "Censors" reminded one somewhat of the Censors and somewhat of the Tribunes of ancient Rome ; their duty was to criticise, and this duty they exercise without fear, though not always without favor.
- Tung-Cheng Sze, "Office of Transmission," dealt with memorials to the throne.
- Ta-Li Sze, " Court of Revision," exercises a general supervision over the administration of the criminal law.
- Han-Lin Yuen, "College of Literature," exercised control over the education of the empire until superseded in 1903 by the Board of Education, and continues to exist as a memorial of a glorious past. It is also charged with the custody and preparation of the historical archives of the dynasty, but many of its records were burnt in 1900.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|